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Article by Rob Piotrowski | Photos courtesy of Jeremy Enigk published | august ‘09

Sunny Day Real EstateJeremy Enigk is best known as the vocalist and guitarist of the legendary Seattle alternative rock band, Sunny Day Real Estate, a role which propelled him into enigmatic icon status. SDRE's success is just as well documented as their demise which is a unique story in and of itself. The combination of record label disputes and Enigk's conversion to christianity have historically been said to be the two primary factors responsible for the split. Enigk has since moved on to a successful career as a solo artist which now spans well over a decade. On June 23, 2009, Sunny Day Real Estate announced they were reuniting for a series of live shows across the United States with the original lineup, which hasn't performed together since 1998.

For many, the news of Sunny Day Real Estate will trump the May 12, 2009 release of Jeremy Enigk's fourth solo album titled OK Bear. Still the development of his solo work should not be overlooked, as Enigk is creating his most mature music to date. Despite his tumultuous career one can hear a clear and consistent progression from one Jeremy Enigk solo album to the next. In his 1996 debut, Return of the Frog Queen, Enigk brought us an eclectic and experimental sound, implementing the use of strings and the dynamic nuances of classical music. 2006 marked the release of World Waits, an ambitious masterpiece in which Enigk explores timeless themes both musically and lyrically. The 2007 follow-up titled The Missing Link, which is a combination of new material and live acoustic recordings of songs from World Waits, rides the success and sound of the previous album nicely, rewarding fans for the long wait in between his first and second release.

"With OK Bear it's just about letting music be music and fate taking over the process..."

OK Bear is a major shift in the entire philosophical approach Enigk has always used for writing and recording albums, it was recorded in Spain with Spanish musicians he had never performed with, with little to no pre-production. "When I went into the studio, I really only had 3 or 4 basic concepts of songs and really had no time because my friend Ramone just sort of sprung the idea on me," Enigk confesses. "I really didn't have time to develop a record and I also liked the idea of not strangling the writing process. On all of my previous records, it is very well thought out, it takes years to make, this one I'm just going to let the muse speak," says Enigk. What led to the sudden change in approach? Enigk describes it as, "an offer too good to refuse." He was given free studio time, free accomplished musicians, a free producer, a free recording engineer, and a little flat to stay in, free of charge.

In total, OK Bear took eight weeks to write and record compared to his previous album, World Waits, which was a three year process. "The amazing thing is: it is totally possible, you shouldn't handle a record too much. It is a lot of fun, just to have to let it go. Usually it is a very stressful process, because I want everything to be absolutely perfect. If my voice isn't working that day I would just have to do the vocals later or rerecord them. With OK Bear it's just about letting music be music and fate taking over the process and that relieved a lot of stress," says Enigk.

Enigk now releases all of his solo work independently through Lewis Hollow Recordings, his own record label that has grown over the past several years. It was only through several timely coincidences that the opportunity to form an independent label became a realistic endeavor. Enigk recalls, "I've been on a few different labels and it got to a point a few years ago where my contract with Sub Pop as a solo artist was up, I had nothing going on there. I was doing The Fire Theft and our label RykoDisc dropped us, we just were not bringing in enough money for them. This all happened in a week that I found all this stuff out, that I was completely free agent. So I was like, well I have a pretty descent sized fan base, maybe I should just try to put this out myself on a humble, mellow level, and went for it."

Jeremy EngikIndependently, Enigk does not have the means to put his music out on a national level the way Sub Pop would. The result is less advertising and less record sales. Yet he is doing better financially being independent then he ever was while signed to a label. He explains, "I respect all the labels I've been on. A lot of the guys I have worked with have been generous to me. I think the biggest thing in contradiction to saying generous is that I found that when I was on a label and not selling very many records it is just really hard to make a living making music. Because in the record industry, all that money is going through so many hands by the time it gets to the band there is nothing left, really nothing. It gets to a point where you feel like you are just doing this for the people. You get nothing out of it yourself. I don't want to sound entirely selfish, but it is my dream to be able to make a humble living off doing what I love and I just found that with the amount of record sales that was going on it just really wasn't working for me."

As far as promoting OK Bear, Enigk is done for now. In the future he plans to fly the studio musicians from Spain to the United States to promote the album, but for now the logistics of it are too much to take on with his upcoming plans. Enigk hints, "I have some other things coming up here that are going to be pretty exciting and they are going to take precedence over the OK Bear stuff and touring. I am going to have a very full plate here pretty soon and I am just not going to do anything with OK Bear until next year. So yeah, some special sort of stuff just sort of came up and I've got to concentrate on that". The "special sort of stuff" being the official announcement of the Sunny Day Real Estate tour. Fans everywhere continue to flood the internet with enthusiasm over a reunion most never thought would come into fruition.

In a more sentimental tone Enigk shifts his train of thought to a wider scope, perhaps realizing the importance of this pivotal moment in his career, "I have this weird feeling lately that the younger I was, the better my music was. I think that a young mind has a really fresh approach and outlook on music and the more I mature the more it sort of gets refined. I miss that youthful way of looking at it because it is all discovery at that point, you are constantly discovering new things." He continues, "I say that, but take it with a grain of salt because I listen to World Waits occasionally and wow, I love it. It is very calculated and there is nothing wrong with that; but I do miss that quality of it just being a discovery. I love being surprised, I love surprising myself."

"The one thing I have always strived to keep focused on is writing music just for the love of it."

Enigk continues on to explain what drove him during the days of Sunny Day Real Estate and how that has led him to where he is now.

"I think I have technically become worse at instrumentation. When I was younger I was really hungry and almost obsessive, I was obsessed with being the absolute best I could be at any instrument. I would practice a lot more, I would play a lot more. Over the years because I have established a way of doing things I don't work on my technical side anymore, I focus more on just playing the basic chords. In the end, letting the voice do a lot of the emotional work because I am just not that great of a musician. I think I am a better songwriter and vibe creator than I am musician."

Jeremy EngikInterestingly enough, as SDRE reunites we will see Enigk be forced to meld his present and past musician self into one. Unlike most bands that reunite, the time apart for SDRE has yielded growth and successful music on more than one end. Bassist Nate Mendel along with drummer William Goldsmith joined the Foo Fighters in 1995. Mendel has been an integral member of the band ever since. While Goldsmith's stint with the band was shorter, he has gone on to record and tour with many other bands and artists. Goldsmith and Mendel later joined Enigk in forming the progressive rock band The Fire Theft in 2001. Guitarist and vocalist Dan Hoerner has led a quieter life retreating to his farm in Washington, but has collaborated with Dashboard Confessional among other projects.

The combined wisdom and experience gained from each musician since SDRE's disbanding presents an intriguing world of creative possibilities. Enigk never ruled out the idea of bringing the band back together and has said all along that the timing would have to be right. What is to happen from here, no one can easily say or predict. No concrete plans have been made beyond the tour and it seems as though the band is perfectly content with that.

Through it all, as the always humble Enigk looks back on his career there is one thing he has stayed true to, "I don't know if I'd be the one to base any serious advice on, my career hasn't skyrocketed, but the one thing I have always strived to keep focused on is writing music just for the love of it. If you love it, I believe the people will not expect any more because you are not in it to impress anybody. I think in the end it will be more impressive if you are doing it for yourself."

"For me music is meditation, it is a time for me to bring the chaos of the world from the outside and internalize it, and really bring it into order. It is like therapy. Music brings joy to me; it can pull out the truth. It makes me look within myself and pull out sorrow and look at things in a more inspired way and that is special to me; that is what I want to do. I like being introverted, and music lends itself to that, it is really easy to do. I can express myself better musically than through words."


Lewis Hollow Recordings:

Jeremy Enigk Myspace:

Sunny Day Real Estate:

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